As many of you probably did, we started prepping before we really thought about moving. In the process we procured a lot of provisions that we felt would serve us well in some sort of catastrophe. It’s certainly true that skills are important but so too are food, medical supplies, guns, and a myriad of other necessities– necessities that take up space and are heavy, if not individually then certainly in aggregate.
A number of years back I came to the conclusion that God was leading me to serve as a pastor. A couple years passed before I was in a place to actively start pursuing this, and in January of 2013 I started seminary. By the following year, through a series of experiences, we decided it was time to start looking for a place to serve. Without any specific direction we concluded that if possible, we would look for a church to serve at in Alaska. We were honest with ourselves and understood that the move from a larger suburb in Colorado to a small town on the road network in Alaska would be about the biggest move we could make successfully. Our family was not prepared to move to an off the grid bush community. In the summer of 2014 we were invited to preach and subsequently offered a position at a small church in Alaska. And then the fun started.
We had two primary considerations or restraints that needed to be resolved in order to effect our move. First, we had to sell our home, and second we had to figure out the work situation. The second dragged out for almost nine months, but God intervened at the right moment to provide the kind of work I needed. The first went more rapidly, but this was not necessarily a good thing. After we listed our home, it took about two months to actually sign a deal to sell the home; the challenge with this was that the new owners wanted to move in within six weeks during half of which time my wife and kids would be gone on a family visit. While we had purged a lot of our stuff in this short period of time (particularly books), we could have done a lot better in paring down our things and only taking what was necessary if we had had more time. As a result we ended up having to rent two storage units for about seven months, while we waited for the job to align. Relationally, it also put a lot of stress on the family, which we really didn’t need. If at all possible when moving, give yourself time to think through the various aspects of the move and start purging before you are ready to actually move.
As alluded to above, we moved in phases. After we sold our house, it was another seven months before we actually left Colorado for Alaska. When it was finally time to leave, we were confronted with the issue of how to move our remaining goods. We had sold most of our furniture, so what remained was pretty concentrated. While we were given a generous allowance from the church, it was not nearly enough to cover the normal costs of a commercial move, which would have been around $15k to $20k, so we opted for a two pronged approach. We would load as much as we could in a you-pack ABF trailer (PODS are not available for a move to Alaska but would be a great way to go in the lower 48) and packed the rest of our stuff in a 12-foot, enclosed trailer to be pulled behind our Suburban. We bought the trailer in part because we would be able to sell it in AK for at least as much as we paid for it or could keep it to use later on.
ABF trailers rent/sell space by the linear foot with a minimum length (I think 13 feet at the time), which we knew we would fill (based on how much stuff was in our storage units). We then had to decided what was going ABF and what would go on the pull behind trailer. Our first two considerations were externally imposed. There were certain items, like firearms, ammunition, and liquids, that ABF would not move, and items like our handguns that we could not bring into Canada without a lot of red tape. We ended up having to ship our handguns but because we had less than 5,000 rounds of ammo, we could bring that on the pull behind trailer along with our long guns (no assault/black rifles). As for the rest, if we didn’t need it right away in Alaska and if it was heavy, it went on the ABF to ensure that the pull behind trailer was not too weighted down. On ABF packing day, we were blessed with a relative who had worked in the moving industry for a while and maximized the use of the ABF, leaving us with a pull behind trailer that was full but not overloaded.
The drive itself at the end of March was by in large uneventful. God blessed us with perfect weather and no breakdowns. We were prepared with extra tires and gas, but certainly if we had had a catastrophic failure on the AlCan we would have been in trouble at that time of year. We planned out our route to ensure that we always had a place to stay, never overreaching in a day’s drive, and broke the drive up a bit for our four kids. It was long but otherwise uneventful. For us, the border crossing in Montana was also uneventful. We arrived mid-afternoon and checked in on the U.S. side before heading to Canada. I had all my paperwork in order, particularly with regards to my long guns, and laid it all out for the agents. This facilitated our crossing on the Canadian side, which took about 10 minutes with only a cursory review of our documentation. But, while waiting on the U.S. side, there was a guy trying to cross who seemed to have a less than honest story he was trying to feed the agent. I’m not sure they ever let him cross.
When we arrived in Alaska one thing we had not procured was a place to stay. Ultimately, we had to live in vacation and other rental places for about a month until we found a permanent place. If at all possible, I would recommend having some sort of lodging in place before arriving at your new location. This caused a lot of stress for the family, again, was not what was needed. But here as well, God provided when we needed it with a great place to live.
- Use a move as an opportunity to purge and update. Moving is a great time to take stock of what you have and what you need. This obviously is relevant to your preps but also to other things as well, particularly if your move is self-funded or partially self-funded and you don’t have tens of thousands of dollars to spend.
- Food stocks and other semi-perishables: If you’ve been prepping for a long time and have not been rotating, moving might be the time to get rid of old stocks and if possible re-buy on the other side (make sure of availability) so as not to incur the shipping cost.
- Tools and other equipment: Assuming you have access to tools and other accessories on the other side, it might make sense to leave or sell outdated or worn out tools at the place you are leaving and buy new at your final destination. My tools were by far the heaviest items.
- Home school and other resources: When we moved we had been home schooling for about eight years. This was a great opportunity (and excuse) to give rid of mountains of papers and other completed work that we no longer needed. As stated above, we also got rid of a lot of our furniture. In our case, we didn’t have anything that was worth moving and having cash in hand was a better way to go. Overall, look at everything you have and determine if it is really worth moving or even if an item will survive a move.
- What we could not sell on Craigslist we donated to Good Will with the added bonus of a little more in the donations column of our tax returns the following year.
- Calculate the costs. If you choose to sell an item and repurchase it later, is that really better than paying the moving costs? We determined that it was not worth trying to move a lot of old furniture, and we were able to sell most of our stuff and repurchase comparable items in Alaska. But, while Craigslist is a great place to buy and sell, most people are looking for killer deals. If you have nice/valuable stuff, you may not be able to sell it for what it’s worth and repurchase it for a similar price on the other end. You really need to think though if the cost of moving might be the more cost effective way to go with any particular item that you can’t do without long term.
- Unless you know the area you are moving to, renting may be the best option to give you time to look for the right place to live. When we arrived there were almost no homes for purchase, and those that were for sale did not meet our criteria. Renting, while not the most cost effective way to go, has worked out well for us and has given us time to think. It has also opened up the possibility of building, which means we could end up with a place that (within reason) meets our needs exactly. One of the true blessings is a land lord whom we have established a good relationship with. I’m sure a bad land lord could be a nightmare. Also, don’t forget insurance if you are moving out of a home you owned and trading it for a rental. (The same is true for covering your possessions during the move; a conversation with your insurance agent may be in order.)
- Books are heavy. If you are moving with multiple modes, maximize your allocation of goods between modes. As stated, we packed all the heavy stuff in the ABF to minimize the wear and tear on our pull behind trailer. Once you have reduced your load to exactly what you need, then parse it out between modes (assuming you are moving with multiple modes) as effectively as possible. Since ABF charged by the volume (linear foot), it got all the heavy stuff, which included most of our preps. We did not, however, ship any valuables, just in case there was an issue with security.
- If you have to cross the border (at least Canada) don’t mess with border guards; play it open and honest. I had read up on the regulations and understood exactly what I could and could not cross the border with. I had all my ammunition counted (to the round and caliber) and passports were up to date. We also had the vet’s clean bill of health for the dog. It is possible to cross the border with handguns and more than 5,000 rounds of ammunition so long as you have the right paperwork (at least this was the case a year ago), but I would not even try it as it would start to raise questions. We did find that the Canadian guards in Montana were pretty understanding while professional. I had called one of the eastern border stations previously and they told me not to even bring my guns through Canada! I would recommend that if you are moving to Alaska cross over in one of the Redoubt states.
- Understand the differences between where you are moving from and where you are moving to.
- Types of heating and other utilities: In our case we moved from a place with full city utilities to a home that is supplied with a well, firewood, and backup oil heat. It has been an adjustment, but it was something I was prepared for. Part of our earnings from selling a lot of our stuff was specifically allocated to buying a new chain saw. For all those moving from some suburban or urban place to a rural place, be prepared to be more self sufficient, even for the little things. Obviously this extends to all aspects of living.
- Food and other sundry costs and availability: Our food budget has definitely taken a major hit in our move to Alaska. As a result, and because of the lack of availability of items like fresh fruits and vegetables, we have had to adjust how we eat. Obviously there will be regional differences on a myriad of these types of issues, but embrace this change. For us, we miss having salads every night, but we have traded it for salmon, halibut, moose, bear, and half a dozen other species secured locally.
- Home school, firearms, and other legal considerations: For most, your move will hopefully relocate you to a place with more constitutionally minded laws and law makers. This has been our experience in moving to Alaska. But this might not always be the case, and I would advise that in areas like firearms, home schooling, and even vehicle registration, that you make sure you understand the laws of where you are going to live and plan accordingly.
Overall, our experience moving to Alaska has been a positive one. There has definitely been some culture shock, and we have had to make adjustments along the way. We have had to make changes to our lives and in some cases compromise on trivial values while sticking to our core principles. Moving is definitely not something to take lightly and prepping adds a number of considerations, which have to be taken into account. Overall, I believe the best policy is to address every situation your move presents with honesty and wisdom.